By Ken Foxe (@kenfoxe)
The Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin has paid back a further €1,295 for calls she made to a friend in Kenya. This is in addition to the €2,000 she had already paid back.
The second repayment was made after an investigation found that a total of 130 calls, which altogether cost €3,295, were made to the African mobile phone. This was discovered after Ms Mulherin looked for an investigation into how details of her calls had made their way into the public domain following a report by the RTÉ Investigations Unit.
In a letter to Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, Deputy Mulherin had said that her public identification had been ‘in contravention of the constitutional protection which exists for members’ communications, phones and papers’.
She wrote: ‘To my amazement I am identified and so is a third party private individual based on information furnished by the Houses of the Oireachtas Service.’
The investigation report, a copy of which has been released under Freedom of Information legislation, found that the Oireachtas did not release any material that might have identified Ms Mulherin.
However, in investigating her complaint, the Oireachtas discovered that the cost of calls was more than the almost €2,000 that had originally appeared in logs of the 100 most expensive calls from 2012 and from 2013. They discovered that further telephone calls had been made to the Kenyan number, bringing to 130 the total recorded on their telephony system.
Ms Mulherin subsequently decided she would re-pay the cost of the additional calls though no records were released by the Oireachtas relating to that decision.
Michelle Mulherin said in a statement to RTÉ: ‘I have received clarification from the Ceann Comhairle ... [that] there is provision for me as there is for other members to make calls from Leinster House without charge. The calls were work related but to avoid any perception that I benefitted personally and to put an end to the distraction and disruption to my work as a TD I arranged to refund the full amount of calls as soon as it was confirmed to me last week.’
The investigation report stated that while members were not charged for calls, the Oireachtas still had to ‘pay the bill for all calls made from Leinster House’.
It said: ‘There is therefore no “Free” call facility; rather the Oireachtas Service bears the costs incurred by members in making calls in accordance with the legislation.’
The report said no details on calls dialled by Deputy Mulherin were released, not only for legislative reasons, but because no such records are kept.
‘The Houses of the Oireachtas receive bills for all calls,’ the report says, ‘these bills show the number dialled, cost and length of the call. The number the call originated from is shown as the Oireachtas mainline ... extension numbers are not shown.’
They pointed out that the TD or Senator who makes the calls could never be identified within the configuration of the telephone system in Leinster House.
The report said that general details of calls had been released in FOI requests but that the phone number dialled ‘was removed’, and only a geographic location left. It was these databases of calls on which the original RTE Investigations Unit report was based.
Subsequent to its publication, the Sunday Times reported that Michelle Mulherin’s clock-in records for the Dail matched many of the calls. Following that report, Deputy Mulherin decided to give an interview to RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke in which she said that she had made the calls.
The Oireachtas internal report said: ‘It can only be assumed that by some other process, journalists deduced that the calls were made by Deputy Mulherin. We understand that on being asked about the calls Deputy Mulherin confirmed that she had made the calls.’
You can read the investigation report below. It is important to clarify that the full report mentions two calls to a second Kenyan mobile phone number, which together cost around €84. These do not relate to Michelle Mulherin and the person who made those calls is not known.